God’s Power in Suffering


There have been numerous reasons given for disbelief in God – some of them more written on the heart than on paper! G.K. Chesterton has said that the only unanswerable argument to Christianity is Christians. The London Times had sent out a question to a number of writers asking the question, “What is Wrong With the World?” G.K. Chesterton wrote a letter in reply:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely yours,
G.K. Chesterton

Oh how simple and profound an answer! What relevance does such a confession have for our own suffering? I want to consider two authors of the Bible (that so honest book) that provide us with a biblical view of the question and the answer. These two authors exemplify humanity within their deep, existential realities: Solomon, the alleged author of Ecclesiastes and Job.

Ecclesiastes: Life as Vanity

The author opens so suddenly: “Meaningless! Meaningless. . . Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (v. 2). Ecclesiastes is a book that addresses our human attempts, our “toils” to find meaning here on earth. In fact, the author lists five: (1) wisdom; (2) pleasure; (3) social duty, reputation, honor; (4) wealth and power; (5) spirituality, faithfulness, religion. In other words (as Peter Kreeft translates), we are laboring through a life that seeks (1) a philosophy to fill your mind, (2) a hedonism (pursuit of happiness) to fill your body, (3) a sense of ethics to fill your conscience, (4) an indulging of material gain to fill your body, and (5) a pursuit of religion to fill your spirituality.

Ecclesiastes recognizes that these things are the “vanity of vanities.” When it says that a thing is “vain”  it means quite literally “chasing after the wind” (e.g.,Ecc. 5:16) or that it is “profitless.” There is no end (telos, goal) to what we do, only an end (finis, finish), and this end is death. “For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?” (Ecc. 6:12)

Ecclesiastes is so unique because it is honest. It is a book that shows life without God – or, even yet, a “larger than life” faith in God – is meaningless. If you remember back in Philippians 3:8 where Paul refers to all things apart from Christ as garbage, or “dung,” compared to knowledge and union with Christ, this “post-Ecclesiastes” relationship with God Paul had was nothing. But now, “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11). And so it is with us! This book dealing with meaningless is meant for Christians.

Job: The “Teacher of Humanity”

Many people have been pushed to their brink; they have experienced through their pain or suffering what may seem like the very edge. Few people have been pushed so close to the edge than Job – though we are not much farther than he. Job after all, through his mourning, cursed the day of his birth: “May the day of my birth perish” (Job 3:3).

However, even after Job had experienced the turmoils of inexplicable loss, he makes his confession: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). In one of his spiritual writings on this passage, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) once wrote,

[“The Lord gave.”] Isn’t this saying rather inappropriate? Doesn’t it contain something that is not actually present in the immediate circumstances? If someone lost everything in a single moment, everything that was dear to him and what was dearest of all – then the loss would perhaps overwhelm him in such a way that, although he couldn’t comfort himself by saying it, he would nevertheless know in his innermost self, before God, that he had lost everything.

In other words, isn’t it reasonable to just admit in the midst of loss, “The Lord has taken away”? After all, can’t we be honest like C.S. Lewis and concede: “But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face” (A Grief Observed). Job I believe first declares “The Lord gives” because his soul is not stricken down by “dumb” oppressiveness – “but his heart expands thankfulness” (Kierkegaard).

God’s Power in Suffering

Job is a strange account because it does not give us an answer to his suffering (nor our own). Hence, we identify with Job not because of any reason given, but because of the “mystery” of God’s provision over our lives. We don’t know “the way to the abode of light,” (Job 38:19), nor where the darkness resides – only God does. Even though Job was impatient and spoke “wild words” (Job 6:2-3), God still approved of Job and not of the theological advice given by his three friends (e.g. Job 42:7).

Even though Job was restless and angry with God, finally, at his restoration toward the end of the book, he was satisfied (Job 42:1-6). So too we modern believers after the Resurrection of Jesus might find comfort in providence and pursue long-suffering and faithfulness to obtain the reward: God Himself.


Photo: Courtesy of Savannah Lauren)

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